BJP Breaks the Hooda Hoodoo

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New innings Chief minister-designate Manohar Lal Khattar (centre) is known to be close to Narendra Modi
New innings Chief minister-designate Manohar Lal Khattar (centre) is known to be close to Narendra Modi. Photo: Ram Kumar S

A combination of factors, including, but not limited to, strong anti-incumbency against the 10-year-old Congress government, the consolidation of the non-Jat vote and the promise of development ensured that the BJP registered an emphatic victory in Haryana. In return, the party gave the state its first non-Jat chief minister in 18 years.

The BJP, which had just four seats in the outgoing Assembly, amassed 47 seats in the 90-member House. The Indian National Lok Dal (INLD) — led by Om Prakash Chautala, who is in jail — came second with 19 seats, while the Congress finished third with 15 seats.

While the BJP’s vote share rose from 9.4 percent to 33.2 percent, the Congress’ share slid from 35.08 percent to 20.6 percent. Even though the INLD saw just a 2 percent decline, the difference resulted in the loss of 12 seats.

The Haryana Jan Chetna Party and the Haryana Lokhit Party fared poorly with their leaders Venod Sharma and Gopal Kanda, respectively, losing the battle.

For a political organisation that was caricatured as the GT (Grand Trunk) Road party until not so long ago (due to its influence being limited to urban centres in the state), the BJP not only won handsomely in urban pockets but also made forays into Haryana’s hinterland.

“There was a strong anti-incumbency sentiment in the state against the Hooda government,” says state BJP spokesperson Jagmohan Anand, asserting that the Modi factor was his party’s trump card. “It is a vote for Modi,” he told Tehelka, describing his party’s stunning victory.

Right from the beginning, the chances of the Congress appeared to be bleak. The decade-long Bhupinder Singh Hooda rule invited much criticism, especially for regionalism and corruption. Rivals alleged that Hooda developed only his strongholds. His government’s pampering of the bureaucracy and the lopsided land acquisition policies also invited the people’s wrath. The government’s change of land use policy helped big builders and adversely affected farmers and landowners.

Hooda’s consolidation of power also ended up alienating many Congress leaders. Despite its attempts to market its welfare schemes, especially old-age pension, the Congress was seen as not having done much for the poor.

“For instance, look at Gurgaon. There is full-scale development here with a lot of investment,” says a local resident. “But the civic facilities are very poor. There are numerous multi-speciality hospitals but only one civic hospital that caters to the needs of thousands of poor labourers who work here.”

When the nationwide anti-corruption campaign was at its peak, the Hooda government did nothing to save its face from the allegations of favouring Robert Vadra, the son-in-law of Congress chief Sonia Gandhi, in a multi-crore land deal. Rather, the government invited more ire by punishing the IAS officer who had questioned the deal.

The strong factional feud within the party only made matters worse. Haryana Congress chief Ashok Tanwar and Chief Minister Hooda fought against each other during ticket distribution. Tanwar even walked out of a meeting when his plea to not give tickets to six MLAs who were caught on camera in a land scam was rejected by the party high command. Hooda had the last word and the MLAs were accommodated. Ironically, all of them lost the election. So did 10 out of Hooda’s 14 ministers.

Tanwar said that the Congress will play the role of a constructive opposition. “There was an anti-incumbency factor against the 10-year rule. Now, we will work to ensure that the BJP’s promises are fulfilled,” he said.

During the campaign, BJP had nothing much to claim in the state except the Modi government’s work at the Centre and the party’s thumping victory in the General Election. Its rivals alleged that the BJP did not even have its own candidates to field as the party gave tickets to many defectors from other parties. Nevertheless, it sought to once again ride the Modi wave in the state.

Modi addressed about a dozen rallies in the state. In all these campaign meetings, he asked the people to help form a BJP government in order to help him better implement his projects in the state and fulfil his vision for Haryana, which he described as his “second home”.

Prior to the Assembly elections in Haryana and Maharashtra, the BJP faced strong criticism for creating the ‘love jihad’ controversy in a bid to polarise votes ahead of the bypolls in several states. Political observers noted that the results of the bypolls were a testimony to the failure of such an experiment, especially in Uttar Pradesh, the epicentre of the controversy.

But there was no such polarising factor in Haryana thanks to the fact that Muslims are a miniscule minority in the state. However, political scientists note that there was indeed an effort to play the soft Hindutva card as the BJP had promised an amendment to the anti-cowslaughter Bill, which will introduce stiffer punishment.

“Haryana is not a Hindu state. It is a casteist state,” says a former DGP on the condition of anonymity. It is evident that the BJP understood this fact well. The party leadership, including Modi, openly reached out to leaders of khap panchayats. Modi even sought their blessings during his election rally. BJP leader Manohar Lal Khattar went on to say that khap rulings were justified, and seconded the khap’s diktat that girls should not wear modest clothes in order to avoid attracting the opposite sex (Khattar is all set to be sworn in as the new chief minister).

Meanwhile, the Dera Sacha Sauda led by Gurmeet Baba Ram Rahim declared open support to BJP just two days before polling day. Some political observers allege that the baba had clinched a quid pro quo deal with the BJP.

Exit wounds The Bhupinder Singh Hooda government was plagued with nepotism and corruption
Exit wounds The Bhupinder Singh Hooda government was plagued with nepotism and corruption. Photo: Tehelka Archives

“The Dera Sacha Sauda declared open support to the BJP just a couple of days before the election. They did door-to-door campaigning for the BJP candidates,” says INLD national spokesperson RS Chaudhury. He believes that the INLD suffered the most because of the controversial sect’s political move. “The Dera Sacha Sauda never did such a thing in the past. They never openly supported a political party during elections. This is against the law. We are thinking of challenging it in the high court.”

The BSP’s social experiment of weaving a Brahmin-Dalit alliance also proved unviable in Haryana. The BSP’s Arvind Sharma, a Brahmin candidate who had defected from the Congress, lost despite Mayawati’s campaign and his projection as the party’s CM candidate.

In Haryana, where Jats are the dominant community, comprising 28 percent of the population, the BJP profited from the ‘disadvantage’ of not having a chief ministerial candidate. It projected candidates from both Jat and non-Jat communities as possible chief ministerial candidates.

While the Jats mostly voted for the Congress and the INLD, a good chunk of them also voted for the BJP. However, the BJP made hay from the consolidation of the non-Jat communities, comprising 72 percent of the state’s population. In his election rallies, Modi vowed to put an end to dynasty politics and the rule of clans.

Most of the 15 seats won by the Congress were from Hooda’s strongholds such as Rohtak, Jhajjar and Sonipat, thanks to his regionalism. Analysts suggest that most of the Deswali Jats, clustered in these regions, voted for the Congress, while the Bagri Jats, who dominate Sirsa, Fatehabad, Bhiwani, Jind and Hisar, favoured the INLD. Of the BJP’s 25 Jat candidates, six prevailed.

The case of the Haryana Janhit Congress (HJC), which is known as a non-Jat party, offers proof to suggest that the non- Jat consolidation happened in favour of the BJP. The HJC won only two seats compared to four in 2009 with its leader Kuldeep Bishnoi and his wife Renuka winning from their respective constituencies.

Hooda’s infamous claim of being a “Jat first and the chief minister second” had a huge impact on non-Jat voters, especially when the non-Jat population already had the feeling of being discriminated against in government jobs, etc.

Hooda gave reservation to Jats in jobs in Haryana and persuaded the upa government at the Centre for reservation in Central jobs as well for the Jats, which further aliened non-Jats, especially the backward castes.

Dalits were feeling threatened by the rising tide of violence against them. Modi’s symbolic act of holding a broom during the Swachh Bharat Abhiyan, which happened just a day before the launch of the BJP’s election campaign, might have had a psychological impact among the Dalit population, given the fact that the Aam Aadmi Party’s experiment with the broom was a success story in the Delhi Assembly election. Dalits comprise nearly 20 percent of the population.

The Congress also invited the ire of a section of the Sikh community after the government created a separate body for managing Sikh shrines in the state.

The increased voter turnout (76 percent compared to 72.37 percent in 2009) is also understood to have helped the BJP as many new and urban voters are believed to have voted for the party. A good example is the Gurgaon region, where the party swept the polls with a huge majority.

The INLD was affected the most by the non-Jat polarisation. Expecting to ride the sympathy wave for its jailed leader Chautala, the party was confident of at least spoiling the BJP’s hope of winning absolute majority. The INLD had strongly believed that it would win more seats, forcing a hung Assembly. However, things took a different turn. Besides the party’s young face and Chautala’s grandson Dushyant, INLD Haryana state president Ashok Arora was also defeated badly.

Political observer Pawan Bansal, who has written a book on the Lal troika (Devi Lal, Bhajan Lal and Bansi Lal) titled Haryana ke Lalon ke Mashoor Kisse, says that the BJP’s good show has brought a paradigm shift in the state’s politics. “The political scene has been revolving around the persona of three Lals for more than four decades,” he says. “It is for the first time that none of the Lal clans are in power. Now, it will depend on the capabilities of the progenies rather than legacies to retain the old glory of the Lals.”

During the poll campaign, the BJP had cleverly projected Ram Vilas Sharma, Khattar, Captain Abhimanyu and Union ministers Sushma Swaraj and Rao Inderjeet Singh for the chief minister’s post in areas that were considered to be their respective strongholds. In an attempt to woo the dominant Jat community, party president Amit Shah had openly favoured Abhimanyu, a former army officer who is also the party’s Jat face.

However, party sources said that there was not much discussion in the newly elected MLAs’ meeting on who should be the chief minister. It was evident that the non-Jat communities had to be thanked.

“BJP state unit president Ram Vilas Sharma, who was himself a contender for the chief minister’s post, recommended Khattar’s name and the MLAs unanimously approved of it,” says a BJP leader on the condition of anonymity. The whole meeting created an impression that the MLAs had already received a clear message from New Delhi as to who should be the CM.

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Humble pracharak makes it big

In the land of the Haryana Lals, an unobtrusive and low-profile RSS leader known for his quiet work on the ground has been chosen as the New Chief Minister.

Defying the prevailing caste arithmetic that has governed the state, the BJP leadership has plumped for the 60-year-old Manohar Lal Khattar, who once wanted to become a doctor. He is a pracharak, a quintessential apparatchik. He enjoys a clean image and is considered close to Prime Minister Narendra Modi, with whom he has worked in the past.

Khattar, who is a bachelor and a first-time MLA, has worked for almost 40 years as an RSS pracharak. He has also been involved in the Antyodaya programme, apart from his work for the BJP.

Known for his political acumen, he played the role of a master strategist and successfully led many electoral campaigns for his party, the latest being the Lok Sabha polls in Haryana as chairman of the election campaign committee.

It was in 1996 that Khattar started working with Modi, who was then in charge of Haryana. In 2002, Khattar was made the election in-charge of Jammu and Kashmir.

Notably, Modi started his campaign for the Haryana Assembly polls by addressing his first rally on 4 October at Karnal, the constituency from where Khattar recorded an emphatic win.

Coming from a humble agricultural background, his family arrived in Haryana from Pakistan after Partition. They settled at Nindana, a village in Rohtak district. To survive, his father and grandfather took up odd jobs as labourers, finally saving enough to start a small shop.

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